Standing by the side of the pavement of a busy road with vacuum in eyes, my heart pounded so hard that it threatened to rip apart the ribs and fall on the ground. I frantically looked around, ran a few steps towards the open space just in front of the market complex that housed a good coffee shop and number of other stores to handle daily needs and then looked back at the speedily moving cars blinding with their headlights, he was nowhere to be seen. It was rush hour traffic with one car not leaving even breathing space for the other. Minutes before we were parking the car by the roadside approved parking area to cut grocery shopping off my list of To-dos for the weekend and I got out shifting the lone cycle to another safe place which was blocking the four wheeler parking space. By the time I returned back, he had disappeared.
My son, all of one and half years old, had vanished when I was busy moving the cycle and my husband craning his neck outside the window to avoid bumping into the adjacent car. How he opened the door, how he climbed out, how the disdain plain day turned into horror seeing the seat empty happened in a flash. We looked at each other and could only ask, “Where is he?”
I, in my unassuming hurry, had just pushed the door enough to touch the hinges but didn’t close it. It was not difficult for him to push it and get out.
My mind raced even faster than my heart. “What if he ran towards the road?”, “What if he started walking on the pavement and just moved out of the vision?”, “Did I hear a car screech to a halt?” It was hard to shake off all the fears and I was literally shivering. My husband came closer and said, “I will go look towards the road and you go towards the open space. Ok?” He knew I would be unable to handle the road, the glare of lights asking me how on the earth I lost sight of him. The fear of losing him, the fear of looking at the end of the world straight in the eye was written in bold letters on my face.
I nodded my head and as I ran towards the long stretch ahead of the coffee shop, I loudly announced almost bursting in tears, “Has anyone seen a boy? A little boy… please … He is wearing a dangri .. please help me…”
The words almost drowning in the tears hazing my vision. I never thought I would ever in my life utter these words. He didn’t know how to speak and he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to me or to my husband. There was a dark street just round the corner. He was not big enough to fear the dark. What if he had walked into that long forgotten alley or if someone just scooped him up seeing him alone and walked away? The startled passersby gave me puzzled looks, some wondering what I was saying, some looking around if they could sniff even a speck of that boy – a footprint, a sandal, the flailing arms, some judgmental on how a mother can do that and some outrightly ignoring the disheveled state and the intensity of words that were ringing in my head again and again.
“I just saw a baby running there?” a college going boy with a backpack on his shoulders pointed out towards the fag end not far from the alley. I rushed past him taking cue from his raised finger and there – I saw him standing with his hands in his mouth and head tilted up to have a better view of the tall strangers walking past him. He looked far from anxious, bemused even. As soon as our eyes met, a familiar smile broke on his face, the one I was used to seeing when he would find his favorite toy among the pile he had painstakingly searched.
I had found what I was looking for too and it felt that suddenly my lungs started working again, the air a little chilly but with just the right nip. By now, my husband had already searched the road side and was sure that our son couldn’t have gone towards the heavily crowded road or else the whole traffic would have come to a halt. He couldn’t lose his mind, at least not when I was spilled all over. He found us together staring at each other; he walked fast paced towards our son taking him into his arms while I was just standing there wiping the sweat beads on my forehead and gulping the guilt. He patted his back and told him while resting his tiny face on his broad shoulder, “Its fine!” and then he looked at me and said, “Really, it is!”